League of Women Voters Launches Education Blog

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Our blog is a tool box. Make it work for you. Here you will find data, studies, and perspectives that inform the discussion about school choice. Send stories of events in your state. Tell us about studies that clarify issues. Do your own studies. Use the information you find here to advocate for League positions.

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Pro-charter group ranks Florida’s charters as middling

From our schools blog at OrlandoSentinel.com  / schoolzone.

 A new national report places Florida just above the middle of the pack for the overall health of its charter school movement. What the new report by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools shows is that, despite consistent growth by charter schools in Florida, the schools have lagged on quality, diversity and innovation.

 Using data through 2010-11, the report found that charter schools in Florida were producing lower academic growth in reading and the same academic growth in math as traditional public schools. However, the report noted that a May report from the Florida Department of Education showed stronger results.

 It also showed that only about 1 in 6 state charter schools use practices the group deems “innovative,” although innovation is supposed to be one of the hallmarks of charter schools. The group measured use of longer school days, years and year-round calendars, among other practices. The schools also serve fewer special education students than typical schools, although they do serve a more racially diverse population.

 The same pro-charter school group also publishes a report that shows how well aligned state laws are to their model law. Florida ranks 8 out of 43 on that scale.

 A group representing school districts and others who promote accountability for charter schools praised the report for considering factors that go beyond a state’s friendliness to charter school operators.

 

Lauren Roth

Latest on Lawsuits

LAWSUIT STATUS UPDATE SITE

This link below leads to the Leon County Clerk’s High Profile Cases page where both McCall v. Scott and Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education are listed.

December 31, 2014.  The Faase vs. Scott et al lawsuit was thrown out.  This is the suit based on the logrolling complaint for the SB850 passage of voucher expansions and PLA for students with disabilities.

December 1, 2014: Court Review of Tax Credit Vouchers

Sun-Sentinel, Editorial, November 30, 2014

Court review of school vouchers long overdue  Sun Sentinel

Florida’s courts must review the state’s school voucher program after this year’s massive expansion by the Legislature.

The Florida School Board Association and the Florida Education Association — the teachers union — are among the plaintiffs challenging the legality of the program, which provides vouchers to 69,000 students, most of them in religious schools. A hearing will take place this month on the state’s motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit rests on two points. The Florida Constitution bans the spending of public money “directly or indirectly” on religious schools. Diversion of corporate taxes owed to the state through a nonprofit called Step Up for Students and given to parents as vouchers, the plaintiffs argue, does not get around the constitutional ban.

Also, the Constitution requires that the state provide a “uniform” system of public schools. Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall calls the voucher program a “parallel” system.” Voucher schools don’t have to give the FCAT or any of the other punitive tests that have so angered parents across the state. Voucher schools must give only a national achievement test.

Jon East is a Step Up for Students vice president. He argues that test scores show gains by voucher students equal to students taking the same test in other states, and that studies show the program to be saving the state money. East also questions the timing of the lawsuit, since the Florida Tax Credit program has been operating for more than a decade.

However, the most recent independent assessment confirms there is no way to accurately compare voucher students with Florida public school students. Absent that accountability, parents who praise the program don’t know with certainty if their children are doing better. And the assessment shows that white voucher students from more affluent families do better — just as in public school.

As for the supposed savings, the calculations rely on information supplied by schools that accept vouchers. And while a legislative analysis this year projected a short-term savings, it also projected a longer-term $30 million deficit.

But why file the lawsuit now? The FEA’s McCall says this year’s expansion was a “tipping point.” Indeed.

The program began in 2002-03 with a limit of $50 million, targeting poor students. This year, the limit is $358 million. Because the limit increases by 25 percent each year, the program could spend $904 million by 2018-19, according to a Florida House analysis.

Families of four making roughly $62,000 will be eligible for a voucher. Three federal surveys place the median income for a Florida family of four at roughly $65,000. That is middle class, not poverty or working poor.

Step Up for Students refers to the “enormous educational challenges faced by children who live in poverty.” Why, then, did Step Up for Students Chairman John Kirtley push for such a significant expansion? And if the limit can be $62,000, why not $82,000 or $102,000?

East noted, correctly, that the vouchers will be smaller for families that make more money. Yet with this year’s expansion, the Legislature could move to a full voucher program with no income limits. And Kirtley has the influence to push for it.

Kirtley and his wife gave roughly $524,000 in the last election cycle, almost all of it to Republicans. Kirtley also is chairman of the Florida Federation for Children, which successfully targeted voucher critics with roughly $1.3 million in campaign contributions.

Voucher supporters portray critics as hostile to school choice for minorities. Whatever compelling anecdotes supporters use, however, there is no compelling evidence the program is succeeding. Example: If minorities are benefiting, why do black students score 20 points lower than white students on those tests?

No state has a bigger voucher system. Last year, Florida spent $286 million on just 2.7 percent of all students. Iowa spent $13.5 million on 2.6 percent of its students.

Florida is on the way to spending $1 billion on a program with questionable accountability that could be the start of an attempt to privatize public education.

Legal review of the voucher program is long overdue.
OCTOBER 31 2014: UPDATE ON MC CALL VS. SCOTT VOUCHER LAWSUIT FROM FEA

Some developments to report.

First of all, the Judge assigned to the case is Judge George Reynolds.  He has been on the bench for many years and is a great judge to have assigned to this case.  He is very experienced.

Second, the State Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the case (attached) asserting that none of the Plaintiffs has standing to bring the challenge.  We will be responding with a legal memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss.

Finally, a group of voucher parents (fronting for the Institute for Justice and the Bush Foundation) have filed a motion to intervene as Defendants.  We have not opposed their intervention, but do oppose their effort to expand their participation beyond that generally permitted by the Rules of Civil Procedure.  A hearing to consider their motion and the scope of their participation is scheduled for December 5, 2014.

As developments occur in the case, we post pleadings on our website.  Accordingly, you or League members can easily access the pleadings under the “Litigation” link on our website:

OCTOBER 22, 2014 UPDATE ON McCall VS. SCOTT

  1. The Florida Education Association (FEA) filed McCall et al vs. Scott et al on August 28, 2014. The FEA opposes the log rolling method of passing SB 850 the bill. The law expands tax credit vouchers and personalized learning accounts for students with disabilities. The LWV joined the suit as a plaintiff.
    The Goldwater Institute filed suit to preserve personal learning accounts that are included in SB 850.

OCTOBER 22, 2014 LWV PETITION TO JOIN CITIZENS FOR STRONG SCHOOLS LAWSUIT DENIED

  1. The League of Women Voters petition to join the Southern Legal Counsel lawsuit Citizens for Strong Schools was denied by the judge. He stated that it was too late in the case.  An amended complaint to the case was filed on May 30, 2014. It alleges:
    –The State’s education program violates the state constitution.
    –The State is not providing a high quality pre-K program.
    –The State is failing to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities for educational policy making, budgeting, operation and supervision of Florida’s public schools.

OCTOBER 22, 2014 FAASE VS. SCOTT LAWSUIT REFILED

3.  The Faase vs. Rick Scott lawsuit was refiled.  This suit challenges SB850 which was signed into law by Governor Scott in June.  The suit was initially thrown out because the plaintiff was a teacher, not a parent.  Parents have been added.  The suit challenges the way the bill was put together in the last session by a series of maneuvers to find enough different subjects and votes to pass instead of dealing with a single subject.  The bill both expands the Florida Tax Credit scholarships and adds the Parent Learning Accounts for children with disabilities to attend private schools and pay for services.

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